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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, December 10, 2023

Bite-Size Science: Flu season expected to be more severe than previous winters, experts say

Influenza vaccines and sanitary supplies are pictured.

Lower temperatures and changing leaves signal the coming of fall, a season of apple picking, pumpkin spice lattes and Halloween movies. The colder months also bring with them an unwelcome guest: influenza season. This year’s flu season is expected to be worse than past winters according to forecasts based on patterns in Australia and New Zealand. Experts look toward countries in the southern hemisphere to predict the upcoming season because winter runs from April to October. According to government surveillance reports, Australia had its worst flu season in five years this year, with an early onset and a peak that was three times higher than average. Public health experts are worried that, along with a COVID-19 peak predicted in early December, two circulating respiratory viruses will be problematic for an already weakened hospital system and are emphasizing that people take the flu season seriously. 

Experts have offered a variety of advice to protect against the upcoming flu season. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health advised individuals to get their flu vaccine between late September and the end of October before community spread begins, but emphasized that even getting a vaccine in November or later is still recommended. If the US flu season follows a similar path as the Australian one, it may be more severe than previous years. This is due to a lack of immunity against the influenza virus since there was essentially no flu season in 2020 or 2021 thanks to social distancing measures and masking efforts to combat COVID-19. The population is therefore more susceptible to the flu virus and should get vaccinated not only to reduce symptoms and illness severity but also to protect vulnerable groups in the community. Last year, only 45% of Americans were vaccinated against the flu, and flu vaccination rates fell in many at-risk groups. Flu vaccines can be given at the same time as the new COVID-19 vaccine and are the best protection against influenza to ensure maximum participation in every activity New England fall has to offer.